So, it has been an awfully long time since I last posted something to my blog! I wrote this post ages ago but couldn’t post it as I was using it for my Creative Writing coursework (which I smashed by the way!) So, now that it has been marked, here is the long awaited post!
On the 8th – 9th March 2017, I had the absolute honour of attending a National Union of Students conference for LGBT+ students in Sheffield with my partner.
After a full day in university on the Tuesday of that week, we headed into Liverpool to get a substantial dinner of chippy chips from the Lobster Pot. We then made our way to Liverpool Lime Street to board the rail replacement coach that would take us to Stockport. We would have just gotten a train straight there had it not been for the station being closed due to a wall that had collapsed onto the train tracks. The coach was devastatingly dark leading me to abandon all attempts to read and plug my headphones into my phone; the sweet tunes from Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood making the hour journey fly by.
When we arrived at Stockport, we jumped off the coach and ran into the station where we got on the train to Sheffield seconds before it was to depart. Taking our seats, we sighed heavily, happy to be on the last leg of the trip. The supposedly scenic journey passed us by in complete darkness and we were there in just under an hour where we took a taxi for five minutes to the Sheffield Metropolitan Hotel where we would be staying during our time there.
We checked in and headed to our room on the seventh floor which, when you’ve spend two years living in student accommodation, was completely luxurious with a comfy double bed, television and a lovely bathroom. The journey had exhausted us both so we took a nice shower and headed straight to bed, ready for our early start at 7am.
When the alarm went off, we both got up straight away, excited and nervous for the events of the day. We got dressed (me wearing my ‘Girl Power’ t-shirt for International Women’s Day) and headed down to the restaurant for our filling buffet breakfast; mine consisting of mushrooms, hash browns and scrambled egg, before we headed back upstairs to get our bags.
The conference was being held in the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn which was just a couple of minutes’ walk away from our own hotel. We entered the foyer where we were greeted by smiling faces all eager to help us register our presence. We all got lanyards, delegate voting cards and stickers with our preferred pronouns on. The bar area where we were lead to was filled with hot drinks and pastries so we grabbed a quick cup of tea and headed to the ballroom where the conference was due to start. This was a large, grand room filled with circular tables with a stage at the front of the room.
As the room started to fill with hundreds of people, some delegates chose to sit with us so we got talking with people from all corners of the UK. The people running the conference were a lovely group and made everyone feel safe and welcome.
The aim of this conference was to put through motions and vote for different officers on the NUS team. This was extremely exciting but vaguely terrifying as I had never attended anything like it before. One of the best things about it was that we were not allowed to applaud as some people had hearing difficulties or are sensitive to sound. Therefore, if we agreed with something, we had to do ‘jazz hands’ in order to show our appreciation or approval. Even after we returned home, I still sometimes have the overwhelming urge to ‘jazz hand’ every time someone says something that I agree with.
The conference got quite intense sometimes as people were putting motions forward that were important and often personal to them. These motions were sometimes getting shouted down by people who had no idea what they were talking about: white men standing up to argue again QTIPOC (Queer, Trans, Intersex People of Colour) etc. Despite this, people were still brave enough to stand up for their groups and managed to achieve what they had set out to do. There was another moment which got quite overwhelming when the woman that was running for Women’s Officer stood up to shout at the people in the crowd for “bullying on twitter” after people had found screenshots of racist/islamophobia comments that she had made on social media. She soon stormed out after her speech and, unsurprisingly, re-open nominations won the vote.
Throughout the two days that we were there, they had various fringes and caucuses for people of different groups within the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) community. My girlfriend and I attended a non-binary fringe on the first day where we got to speak out about issues regarding our community in university life such as a lack of gender neutral toilets and lack of education and knowledge from tutors which also including misgendering. It was interesting to see how common these issues were amongst people from all over the UK and we made a nice group of friends from attending.
Later that day, we also attended a queer caucus where similar issues were brought to light. We also spoke about the word “queer” and what it means to us. It was apparent that some people in the group were uncomfortable with using “queer” to refer to themselves as it used to be used as a slur and this got us onto the topic of reclaiming certain words. One of the men in the group was a person of colour and it was fascinating to hear what he had to say about reclaiming certain words. He also made us aware of certain phrases which people use in everyday language which actually originate from slave traders and were meant as racist terms such as “getting down to the nitty gritty” which was used to refer to slaves that died at the bottom of the ships.
After the queer caucus, my girlfriend and I returned to our hotel room where we got changed into “formal dress” and headed back to the other hotel where we met up with our new found friends. When it hit 7.30pm, we headed back into the ball room which had been done up ready for the gala dinner and the NUS LGBT+ Awards. We and our group of newfound friends chose a round table near the front of the room. It was laid with cutlery, plates, candles and fancy napkins.
The food was incredible too and, for a vegetarian who hadn’t eaten much of the incredibly spicy food on offer at lunch that is high praise…although I am still uncertain as to what it was that I ate in replacement of the turkey, which everyone around me seemed to enjoy.
After a sickeningly sweet chocolate cake (which I handed to Zoë to finish after they had finished their own), the awards ceremony began. We were runner up for ‘Best Campaign’ due to the ‘Don’t Assume Campaign’ which we set up at the end of last academic year to educate people on genders and sexualities so that people don’t always assume straight away. We then won another award for ‘Best Society Development’ as we formed our LGBT+ Society up from nothing which shocked everyone on our table. We felt so much pride and were congratulated by so many people before the night ended and people began to leave. We however, stayed up until 11pm talking to two of our new friends before we became so tired that our eyes began to shut so headed back to the hotel where we showered and climbed into bed.
It was a lot harder to get out of bed on the second day after such an exhausting first one, but we manged to drag ourselves into our clothes and head downstairs for our final hotel breakfast. After we finished eating, we went back to our room to finished packing our bags and left it with a sad farewell, heading to the lobby to checkout. We then made the trek back to the Holiday Inn, the walk feeling a lot longer than it had the previous day, and went inside, grabbing a cup of tea before heading into the ballroom where we took our seats.
We met up once again with our friends from the day before and got quite emotional thinking about the fact that it was our last day together. We passed some more motions; the conference running more smoothly than it had the day before and then we braked for lunch and various caucuses throughout the day.
Lunch was again too spicy for my taste buds, although the rice was nice. We went back to the ballroom where we chose to spend our time until we had a caucus that was relevant to us and our identity. While we waited, we took a few group pictures and I started to read The Song of Achilles for the second time. I also bought a new t-shirt that said “In space, nobody can hear you insist that there are only two genders”. I thought this was hilarious and the money that I paid for it went to Action for Trans Health.
I later went to the asexual caucus with one of the people that I had met the previous day at the non-binary fringe. The group was very small but everyone was so lovely and made it easy to talk about issues surrounding the asexual+ community. After that, we went into met with the rest of our group to go to the transgender caucus where we voted for our new trans+ rep.
Shortly after, we all got out bags and sat in the foyer together until it was time for us all to say our goodbyes and head to the train station. Our train was sadly a lot later than we had hoped it would be so we got some sandwiches and waited for it to arrive. The journey home was a lot more awkward as we were sat on a table seat opposite some strangers that took up a lot of space with their bags and laptops. The night only got worse when we were in the taxi back to the flat and realised that I had left my bag on the train, which was gone by the time we got back. Despite this, I found the whole experience very rewarding and inspiring. It gave me multiple ideas to bring back to university in order to make it a better experience for the amazing community that I am a part of.
Thank you so much for reading x